Tim Hodgkinson - Sketch of Now
Music from the co-founder of the legendary Henry Cow
Vers Kongsu II (2003) (10:13)
for ensemble with solo clarinet
Tim Hodgkinson, clarinet solo
Vinny Golia, bass clarinet
Gustavo Aguilar, percussion
Iancu Dumitrescu, conductor
Aici Schiteaza pe Acum (2004) (8:58)
for ensemble and tape
Lisa Cella, flute
Robert Reigle, tenor saxophone
Morris Palter, percussion
Tim Hodgkinson, conductor
Fighting/Breathing (2001) (7:40)
for bass clarinet and taped percussion
Tim Hodgkinson, bass clarinet
Fragor (2003) (7:06)
for computer-modified cello and electric guitar
De Yoknapatawpha (2004) (16:49)
for two clarinets and piano
Isabelle Duthoit, clarinet
Jacques Di Donato, clarinet, bass clarinet
Pascale Berthelot, piano
Further into Hard Stone (2004) (9:02)
Berten d'Hollander, flute
Denis Simandy, french horn
Robert Reigle, tenor saxophone
Tim Hodgkinson, conductor
Tim Hodgkinson co-founded the politically and musically radical free-jazz/progressive rock group Henry Cow in 1968, which also featured guitarist Fred Frith. He regards his membership in this group, with the opportunity to work closely and collectively with other instrumentalists in developing new sound worlds, as the foundation of his musical education.
In addition to composing, Hodgkinson continues to perform as an improviser (clarinets, saxes and keyboards) and considers the practice of improvisation as an important aesthetic form in contemporary music.
This disc explores Hodgkinson's other side as a composer, and also as a soloist, of recent compositions for ensembles (2001-2004).
The works explore a variety of processes and influences - Korean and ritual Siberian music, improvisation, the actual use of musique concrete, and combinations/transformations of acoustic instruments with electronics and tape.
Liner notes by Tim Hodgkinson.
The Wire: "Recordings of the Year" for 2007
Gramophone: "Critics Choice" for 2007
Sketch of Now
Clarinettist and composer Tim Hodgkinson had a well misspent youth in Henry Cow, the radical rock band that fused a taste for asymmetrical time signatures with hard-left politics. Since they disbanded, Hodgkinson has devoted his time to composition, although his engagement with improvised music and an instinctive agitprop attitude gives his scores an edge that's forever rock'n'roll.
In fact Hodgkinson's music is so intense and fiercely independent I don't think I've ever seen him programmed at a London new music gig. The language he occupies has surface similarities to so called New Complexity composition (Finnissy, Ferneyhough, Barrett et al) but each gesture feels liberated by its notation, and here are six pieces crammed with the sound of surprise. The opening work Vers Kongsu II (2003), for ensemble with solo clarinet, gives notice of what's to come. Punchy ensemble writing that strains at the boundaries like an over-exposed photograph is underpinned by cosmic gong rolls that make the tam-tams in Messiaen's Et exspectio resurrectionem mortuorum seem like mere triangle pings. The ear is obliged to cope with an information overload until a structural bombshell: Hodgkinson chops the flow, and a long fragmentary non-sequitur clarinet solo follows that's intriguingly out of proportion to everything we've just heard.
Hodgkinson's understanding of the DNA of the clarinet is complete, and De Yoknapatawpha for two clarinets and piano (2004) presents a uniquely parched, microtonal landscape. Fragor (2003) amd Aici Schiteaza per Acum (2004) involve a telling meditation between acoustic and electronic forces - music that recklessly occupies the present.
--- Philip Clark, Gramophone, February 2007
Sketch of Now
I once got into trouble with Fred Frith by comparing one of his recent pieces (not all that favourably, as I recall) to his old stuff with Henry Cow. He had a point. So if you pick this up expecting it to be another one of those colourful knitted socks, forget it. Clarinettist / composer Tim Hodgkinson has come a long way since "Nirvana for Mice" - or rather, gone a long way, as he's spent a lot of time out in the wilderness of Siberia researching shamanic music and ritual. More recently he's been dusting off his improv chops in the trio Konk Pack, with Thomas Lehn and Roger Turner (what happened to Konk Pack, by the way?), and, as this splendid debut on Mode reveals, concentrating on his composition. Three of the six pieces on Sketch Of Now were recorded in Romania, with Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana-Maria Avram's Hyperion Ensemble. Hence the Romanian translation of the title track Aici Schiteaza pe Acum, a scary nine minutes of "accumulation and discharge" of sonic energy for ensemble and tape. Hodgkinson plays the solo clarinet (and bass clarinet) parts himself in Vers Kongsu II and Fighting / Breathing, the former an energetic tussle with the Romanians (plus Vinny Golia, making a guest appearance on bass clarinet), the latter a sparring match with pre-recorded percussion. The split-second timing and fresh unpredictability of Hodgkinson's music owe much to his skill as an improviser, but he's got a sharp ear for orchestral timbre too, and puts it to impressive use. It's not easy listening though; Fragor, for computer-modified cello and electric guitar (both performed by the composer, it seems - there's no mention of personnel in the booklet) is what my mother would call "nasty modern music". In fact she calls just about everything written after 1950 "nasty modern music", with the exception of a few Benjamin Britten things, but in this case she's got a point - De Yoknapatawpha is a thorny affair, brilliantly executed (I use the word deliberately) by Jacques di Donato and Isabelle Duthoit on clarinets and pianist Pascale Berthelot, but hard to love. But they used to say that about Henry Cow, too.
--- Dan Warburton, www.paristransatlantic.com, October 2006
Sketch of Now
"All music divides a continuum into, for example, discrete notes or contrasting sounds, but in this piece I used the idea for dismemberment..."
The above description, written by Tim Hodgkinson concerning the opening piece on this new Mode collection, highlights, as well as any verbiage can, the dialectic underlying every composition on Sketch of Now. As soon as a boundary is established, delineated at length or in the most cursory fashion, a disruptor affects enigmatic but palpable change.
What separates Hodgkinson from the myriad others that work in similar modes of musical construction is a unique attention to recurrence, both of sound and of silence. His palette is that of the contemporary classicist, but his cyclic deployment of sound and its apparent antithesis - his explorations of the genesis, motion and fruition of each sound in context - reveal many layers on repeated listening that render any notion of classicism irrelevant.
The opening moments of "Further into Hard Stone" (2004) demonstrate the simultaneous expansion and dismemberment of an ensemble sound. Each element is clearly audible as it rises from the collective ensemble iteration, the recurrent swells providing much of the differentiation. The multiple overtones hearken back to what Hodgkinson states to be the original concept of the work, involving ring modulation; the clarinet stands out above all else, different shades of vibrato momentarily disconnect the timbre from environment and preconception.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, "Aici Schiteaza pe Acum" (2004, for ensemble and tape) is built on larger and more violent contrast. Hodgkinson describes the work's origin:
"Here as a 'Sketch of Now' is how the Romanian translates. Always I try to return to the blank emptiness when I start a piece. That there should be nothing, except what comes. In this case the commission was for an ensemble piece that had to use tape. I tried to push that out of my mind. Nothing happened. I walked. I sat. Nothing came. In the afternoon I became aware of an enormous sound: a violent thunderstorm had started up. Taking this as a sign, if not from god, at least from the complex unpredictability of being, I rushed out to record it."
The act of sitting, of willful anti-reflection, in contrast with the big bang of inspiration, is subjected to continuous return in this timbral fireworks display, as geysers of activity burst forth, exuberant but controlled, only to vanish abruptly into the uneasy rustling with which the piece opens. A particularly harrowing moment involves what sounds like piano strings being stroked at great speed, any sense of attack smoothed out. At first transparent, the sound swells until it's pierced by a percussive intrusion; the moment of disillusion is brought about, however, by the airy staccato of a flute, the gesture seeming almost humorous in its destructive power.
I have concentrated on moments of this music, leaving many, many others untouched. Special mention must, however, be given to the players of Rumanian composer/philosopher Iancu Dumitrescu's Hyperion Ensemble, without whose complete absorption of the tradition of exploration this music would surely suffer in translation. All of the playing is masterful, and this is certainly now among Hodgkinson's best recorded offerings.
--- Marc Medwin, Dusted Reviews (online review), Sep. 4, 2006
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